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What is COVID-19 teaching us about supply chain management?

Author: Mark Holden, European Development Manager

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes.

We continue to feel the impact of COVID-19, on a personal, organisational and national level.


For those working in supply chain management, COVID-19 has been the latest in a recent series of disruptive global challenges, including volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and war. Such global challenges undoubtedly lead to supply chain shock.

Unlike some challenges which are contained within regions, states or continents, the pandemic has sent shockwaves across the entire globe. As a result, all international supply chains have felt the effects of COVID-19.


So, how do we manage this situation?

The obvious answer is protecting supply chains. However, there is always a snag. Unfortunately, increased supply chain protection, such as insurance, diversification and risk assessment, means increased costs.

The vast majority of companies have little grasp of their supply chain beyond a couple of links. The scramble to discover whether or not suppliers were based in the early outbreak provinces of China exemplifies the ambiguity that many industries face when relying on centralised inventory systems.

For certain sectors, including those on the ‘COVID-19 frontline’, supply chain issues have been strenuous and plagued by uncertainty. The provision of personal protective equipment for frontline workers has been strained due to an exponential rise in demand.

Running parallel have been testing and vaccine developments which have been accelerated thanks to the heroic efforts by the global scientific community.

scientist


Learning from previous disruptions to the supply chain

Our experiences of supply chain shock reiterate the importance of following five key principles:

  1. Improving the international and interagency compatibility of resilience standards and programmes.
  2. Ensuring supply chain risks are assessed as part of all management and governance processes.
  3. Developing networks of suppliers, customers and government officials to focus on risk management.
  4. Improving the visibility of network risks via sharing information and developing standardised risk assessment tools.
  5. Improving risk communications both before and after disruptions.

These are comprehensive and well-designed principles which aim to mitigate risk and improve learning. However, they incur time and money, something which many smaller organisations may find prohibitive.


Adapting to the current logistics environment

Just as many airlines have reduced passenger flights, with some converting to cargo only, quarantine restrictions and smaller customs workforces have led to longer transit times.

This limited operational capacity inevitably drives up prices in the short term, and can also make it difficult for organisations that have previously relied on a single transport route.

map showing global logistics

To ensure time and temperature-sensitive shipments are transported both safely and effectively during times of limited operational capacity, often companies need to design and implement creative routings within the space of hours, if not minutes.


Solutions include using alternate airlines, chartering aircraft or booking shipments onto cargo-only flights, as well as routing shipments through countries which historically would not have been used as layover points.

Earlier in March, American Airlines scheduled its first cargo-only flight since 1984, providing much-needed cargo capacity and medical supplies. (Header image courtesy of American Airlines).


Transporting time and temperature-sensitive biological materials during a crisis

Here are a series of best practices which have guided numerous organisations through the current crisis.

  • Prepare contingency plans that reduce the impact of uncontrollable external factors, such as choosing logistics partners that create, develop, implement and improve procedures that can contain risk.
  • Ensure your logistics partner has the capacity to consider all relevant factors when deciding packaging solutions and route design. This means factoring transit time, routing and temperature requirements into the transport plan.
  • Where cryogenically frozen material is being transported, choose partners who offer the opportunity to top-up liquid nitrogen dewars at strategic checkpoints, protecting the materials in the event of delays.
  • Insist on smart tracking and monitoring that is client facing, as well as logistics partner facing.

Biocair works to GDP standards across its global network, delivering industry-leading logistics solutions for even the most sensitive biological materials.


If you would like to find out how we can transport your life sciences materials, please contact your local office.


Contact The Author

Mark Holden, European Development Manager
Based in the UK, Mark is responsible for the Business Units in Belgium and Germany. With over 20 years’ experience of building successful teams in the UK and Europe within Express and Specialist Pharmaceutical Logistics, Mark is ideally placed to understand the needs of customers and to develop the team and solutions required to ensure service excellence.



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